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Aerobiology and the Arctic - microbial colonization of remote polar environments.(Ref: SF20/APP/PEARCE3)

Faculty of Health and Life Sciences

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Prof D Pearce Applications accepted all year round Self-Funded PhD Students Only

About the Project

The rate of dispersal to an ecosystem can significantly influence ecosystem dynamics. Aerial transport has also been identified as an important source of biological input to remote locations. However, the contribution of aerial dispersal in shaping patterns of biodiversity and ecosystem function remains poorly understood, mainly due to the lack of coordinated efforts in gathering data at appropriate temporal and spatial scales. In this proposal, we will use the opportunity to gather circum-Arctic samples to map aerobiological diversity, and identify main dispersal sources and routes and areas of special concern for biological conservation. This represents the first ever opportunity to investigate the atmospheric ecology and biogeography of aerial transfer within the region, and it would allow us to identify the main source(s) of microbial diversity to the Arctic, airborne invasive species and pollutants, and it will help developing Arctic conservation measures involving also countries of particular influence.
The way ecosystems function, evolve and adapt to new conditions depends directly on the species they contain. This, at the same time, is influenced by the ability of organisms to disperse and establish in these ecosystems. For Arctic microorganisms, this might represent a particular challenge, as air and water currents form an barrier around the continent; however, both cosmopolitan organisms and microbes adapted to Arctic conditions are known to live, even thrive, on the continent, challenging the belief that the Arctic is one of the most isolated place on Earth. Here, working with an international group of microbiologists, meteorologists, physicists and chemists we will gather data to identify the link between Arctic microbial diversity and populations in the surrounding continents, the rate of dispersal, natural forces driving it and factors altering the rate and composition of biological diversity dispersed by wind and water currents.
The project will require fieldwork in the Arctic, for which funding can be provided

Eligibility and How to Apply:
Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications should include a covering letter that includes a short summary (500 words max.) of a relevant piece of research that you have previously completed and the reasons you consider yourself suited to the project. Applications that do not include the advert reference (e.g. SF20/…) will not be considered.

Deadline for applications: 1st July for October start, or 1st December for March start
Start Date: October or March
Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community. The University holds an Athena SWAN Bronze award in recognition of our commitment to improving employment practices for the advancement of gender equality.

For enquiries, contact Prof David Pearce ([Email Address Removed])

Funding Notes

Please note, this is a self-funded project and does not include tuition fees or stipend; the studentship is available to Students Worldwide. Fee bands are available at . A relevant fee band will be discussed at interview based on project running costs


Malard, L. A., Šabacká, M., Magiopoulos, I., Mowlem, M., Hodson, A., Tranter, M., Siegert, M. J. & Pearce, D. A. (2019). Spatial variability of Antarctic surface snow bacterial communities. Frontiers in Microbiology. 10, 461.

Pearce D.A., Hodson, A, Ovreas, L., Larosse, C., Convey, P., Schmale, J., Malard, L., Anwar, Z. & Avila-Jimenez, M. (2018). Microbial activity monitoring by the Integrated Arctic Earth Observing System (MamSIOS). In: SESS report 2018. The State of Environmental Science in Svalbard – an annual report. P48-82.ISSN 2535-6321. ISBN 978-82-691528-0-7 and SESS report 2018 – Summary for Stakeholders. The State of Environmental Science in Svalbard – an annual report. ISSN 2535-6313. ISBN 978-82-691528-1-4.

Redeker, K.R., Chong, J.P.J., Aguion, A., Hodson, A and Pearce DA (2017). Microbial metabolism directly affects trace gases in (sub) polar snowpacks. Journal of the Royal Society Interface. 14, 137, 20170729.

Cuthbertson, Lewis, Amores-Arrocha, Herminia, Malard, Lucie, Els, Nora, Sattler, Birgit and Pearce, David (2017) Characterisation of Arctic Bacterial Communities in the Air above Svalbard. Biology, 6 (2). pp. 29-51. ISSN 2079-7737.

Cuthbertson, Lewis & David A. Pearce (2017). Aerobiology. Chapter 3. In: Psychrophiles: From Biodiversity to Biotechnology, 2nd Edition (Ed) Rosa Margesin. Springer Verlag, Berlin Heidelberg.

Pearce, David, Alekhina, Irina, Terauds, Aleks, Wilmotte, Annick, Quesada, Antonio, Edwards, Arwyn, Dommergue, Aurelien, Sattler, Birgit, Adams, Byron, Magalhães, Catarina, Chu, Wan-Loy, Lau, Maggie, Cary, Craig, Smith, David J., Wall, Diana, Eguren, Gabriela, Matcher, Gwynneth, Bradley, James A., de Vera, Jean-Pierre, Elster, Josef, Hughes, Kevin, Cuthbertson, Lewis, Benning, Liane, Gunde-Cimerman, Nina, Convey, Peter, Hong, Soon Gyu, Pointing, Steve, Pellizari, Vivian and Vincent, Warwick (2016) Aerobiology over Antarctica – a new initiative for atmospheric ecology. Frontiers in Microbiology, 7 (16). ISSN 1664-302X.

Hodson, Andy, Brock, Benjamin, Pearce, David, Laybourn-Parry, Johanna and Tranter, Martyn (2015) Cryospheric ecosystems: a synthesis of snowpack and glacial research. Environmental Research Letters, 10 (11). p. 110201. ISSN 1748-9326

Pearce, David, Hughes, Kevin, Lachlan-Cope, Thomas, Harangozo, Stephen and Jones, Anna E. (2010) Biodiversity of air-borne microorganisms at Halley station, Antarctica. Extremophiles, 14 (2). pp. 145-159. ISSN 1431-0651.

Pearce, David, Bridge, Paul, Hughes, Kevin, Sattler, Birgit, Psenner, Roland and Russell, Nick (2009) Microorganisms in the atmosphere over Antarctica. FEMS Microbiology Ecology, 69 (2). pp. 143-157. ISSN 0168-6496.

Hughes, Kevin, McCartney, H., Lachlan-Cope, Thomas and Pearce, David (2004) A preliminary study of airbourne biodiversity over peninsular Antarctica. Cellular and Molecular Biology, 50 (5). pp. 537-542. ISSN 1165-158X.

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